Julian Costello & Vertigo – new album; launch at Pizza Express Dean Street, 23 July – London Jazz News

Julian Costello and Vertigo – Julian Costello, tenor and soprano saxophones; Natalie Rozario, cello and vocals; Stefanos Tsourelis, oud and guitar; Sophie Alloway, drums; and special guest Iqbal Pathan, tabla – launch their new album (on the Elsden Music label) at Pizza Express, Soho on Tuesday 23 July. Feature by Rob Adams.

Verigo: L-R: Julian Costello, Iqbal Pathan, Natalie Rozario, Sophie Alloway, Stefanos Tsourelis. Publicity photo

Julian Costello hardly needs to mention some of the music that has had an influence on his new album, Vertigo, and his band of the same name.

There are hints of fellow saxophonist John Surman’s pastoral hymns and Thomas Hardy-inspired themes. Atmospheres similar to those generated by Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim hover in the background and Costello’s love for the music and oud playing of Tunisian Anouar Brahem shines through particularly on The King Cobra.

This isn’t to suggest that Vertigo is derivative. Far from it. Costello has his own strong and distinctive musical personality allied to a creative imagination that has brought together the unusual instrumentation of tenor and soprano saxophone, cello, drums, tabla, oud and guitar, the last two both played by the mightily impressive Stefanos Tsourellis.

“I asked Stefanos to bring his oud and one guitar – his Stratocaster – to the sessions,” says Costello. “We’ve worked together for about five years and he’s an incredibly versatile and adaptable player. He was a bit taken aback by my insistence that he only bring his Strat, so I told him, Yeh, I want a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck – and I think that’s what he gave me.”

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Tsourellis’ guitar playing, a kind of benignly creative hooliganism, on ‘The Whale’ is one highlight among many on Vertigo. ‘Inspector Morse’ is another. Costello might have felt that he was slipping into advanced age while watching the detective – for research, you understand – but his adaptation of the familiar, morse code-inspired, repetitive one note melody of the Morse theme works beautifully. He’s made the idea his own while also employing Natalie Rozario’s cello and Tsourelis’s guitar to suggest the dreaming spires that the late Barrington Pheloung’s original conjured up.

“I’m really interested in impressionism, colours and textures,” says Costello, “and Natalie’s cello playing is wonderful for creating these. There aren’t many cellists around who can improvise, that I’m aware of, and her intonation is incredible. She also sings beautifully and although she doesn’t sing on the album, that’s something else that she can add on gigs to draw people into the music.”

The music on Vertigo falls into two categories. Costello began composing for the instrumentation on the album about a year before the recording, so he had roughly half the material prepared quite far in advance. Then, as the sessions got closer he had a further burst of activity.

“There’s nothing like a deadline to spur you into action,” he says. “‘The Whale’ only came about a week or two before the recording, whereas ’42 Sydney Street’ had been around a bit longer. It’s dedicated to where I used to live as a child in Chelsea.”

Ideas for compositions – that perennial question of where music comes from – can strike Costello in almost any situation, it seems. The playful ‘Look at Yourself with A Smile’ came from sessions with a homeopath whose holistic way of treating mind and body advised patients not to be too hard on themselves, and the more self-explanatory ‘Stonehenge’ reflects Costello’s liking for creating a sense of place and capturing an atmosphere.

The album has been tried out on gigs already but Costello is looking forward particularly to the launch at Pizza Express.

Vertigo at Pizza Express Dean Street

“It’s substantially the same sound live as on record,” says Costello. “We have Sophie Alloway, who I’ve worked with off and on for about five years and who brought her wonderful personality as well as her fabulously selfless drumming to the recording and worked brilliantly with Iqbal [Pathan], the tabla player. Natalie might not be able to reproduce the five cellos she overdubbed on Sorry But No Reprise but she will be adding pizzicato lines to compensate for the absence of double bass, which was played on the album sessions by the studio engineer, David Beebee.”

With Costello and Tsourellis standing onstage, the two women sitting to play by necessity and Iqbal Pathan taking up the tabla player’s traditional position seated on the floor, the live Vertigo setting can be visually “interesting”, says Costello.

“It makes keeping eye contact a bit of a challenge but the thing I like about this band is that everyone listens to each other. You’d think that goes without saying but it’s so important and it really helps to bring the music to life as intended and to give the audience the best experience possible.”

PP features are part of publicity packages

LINKS: Buy/ order Vertigo at Elsden Music/ Bandcamp
Bookings for Pizza Express launch 23 July

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